WESTMINSTER, Colorado (CBS4) – Construction of a new Lao Buddhist temple continues almost 10 years after a fire destroyed the place of worship that a community relied on to gather for cultural traditions and celebrations.
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May is Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Laotian families in Colorado are one of many AAPI communities proud to call this state their home as they work to rebuild their campus. .
“Laos is a country where we are not very well known,” said Emmy Thammasine, the chief designer of the temple at 10685 North Dover Street in Westminster. “We want it to be a place where people can come and learn about who we are, who Laotians are, and really just showcase our beautiful culture.”
A country of just over 7 million inhabitants, it is located in Southeast Asia, near Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Thammasine explains that the country often gets lost as a small nation next to big neighbors. He lived in the United States most of his life and returned to Colorado just months before the old temple caught fire. He remembers that the whole community quickly learned on December 5, 2011 that this element of the community had disappeared.
“It was there, and my heart sank and I would say it was the same for anyone in the community when they saw the news,” he told CBS4 outside the new construction site Wednesday. “Without the temple, there is no Lao community.”
A fundraising campaign for several buildings on campus and volunteers working on Fridays and weekends have kept the project going for almost a decade since the fire. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed their progress but the main temple structure is taking shape and is almost complete. This month, the team finishes installing drywall on the 15,000 square foot structure. It includes a basement for events, below a central hall that will house large statues of Buddha.
“We will have to rebuild. If we don’t, there is no future for our Lao community here in Colorado, ”Thammasine recalls telling other members. He is an architect by training and volunteers his time outside of work to supervise the project. “It’s a community effort – it took a village to build this temple and bring it to where it is now, and we just hope to finish it soon. “
Not only does the temple host traditional ceremonies and celebrate holidays, but the birth of a child and the announcement of a wedding are all events that bring the community together here. They celebrate the New Year with the rest of the country at the temple and their own Lao New Year in April, which they hope to celebrate in the new temple next year.
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“It’s not easy, it’s been difficult, but it also really made us persevere,” he said. “It’s going to build, we just have to be patient and we just have to fight together.”
During a month when all AAPI communities celebrate their legacy and show solidarity – at a time of heightened anti-Asian hate crimes – Thammasine says this temple rebuilding project could not be possible without the support of others, including the American Hmong and Lao-Lue communities. in Colorado, who have offered their support to the project. This gesture is consistent with the teachings of the temple and its members, which say that all are welcome and that their doors are always open.
“Just being in the presence of the temple is just a very relaxing and very calming atmosphere. This is what I look forward to the most, ”he said.
“I see Buddhism as a whole actually as a teaching, as a philosophy more than a religion, and that’s what I find really beautiful about it.”
Thammasine describes the community as a very proud and happy people, who have adopted their new home while retaining the culture that they brought with them to the United States. The Laotian community cheers on the Broncos weekly and loves their view of the Rocky Mountains from the temple, a feature that will be further highlighted in the new design. Exposed wood is another western accent that the temple showcases, which makes it truly unique to Colorado.
“You come, you don’t need to immerse yourself in all the religion, but just to open your heart and learn and hear the teachings of Buddha and really the teachings about life,” he said. he declares. “It is a blessing to be here in this great state and this great city.”
While the fire destroyed the entire temple, some relics were saved and remain in storage. The total cost of the project is $ 1.5 million, including two other buildings on campus. The community recently returned to the site to meet again for the first time since the pandemic, using a tent to congregate just yards from the outline of the original temple, which remains visible on the property.
“Laotians love to be here and that’s why they stay and want to be here,” Thammasine said. “It makes us stronger, it makes us more proud to know that we are not many but big at heart.”
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If you would like to help build the new Lao Buddhist temple, visit watlaodenver.com.